Surface design is the process of adding a design to the surface of fabric. These processes include, but are not limited to, painting, printing, and resist. Art quilts can incorporate one or more of these techniques. This article will discuss these techniques, in hopes of demystifying surface design.
There are many paints on the market specifically for fabric. Two types of paint I have used are Setacolor and Dye-Na-Flow. Both are easy to use and come in a variety of colors. They are heat set and can be washed. Setacolor is great for sun printing fabric as well as for painting fabric. The paint does not change the hand of the fabric and can go through to the other side. It is very thick and should be mixed with water. As with all new supplies, read the directions first.
Dye-Na-Flow is a thinner paint. I have mixed it with Setacolor when sun printing, without any problems. I generally use Dye-Na-Flow for shaving cream marbling and tie dye. Both of those techniques make great surface designs and are easy to do.
Readily available craft paint can be used. When using craft paint you may want to use a textile medium with the paint. Some acrylic craft paint can be used without a textile medium, but you may want to thin the paint with water. These paints usually change the hand of the fabric and does not go through to the other side. For certain projects craft paint may give the desired result. I have used Americana craft paint on fabric. I thinned it with water and did not use a textile medium. I do not know if it can be washed.
As with all artistic endeavors, practice on small pieces of fabric to learn the technique before you start on a real project. Be sure to cover all areas when working with paint. These paints are permanent and will stain everything.
Printing can include screen printing, sun printing, and stamping. All of these techniques involve ink or paint. Screen printing is the technique of making a “screen” with a design and then pushing the paint through the screen onto the fabric. This can easily be done at home with the right supplies and directions.
Stamping is a fun and easy beginner project to try surface design. Store bought inks and stamps can be used. You can also use found objects, such as bottle tops, shoe prints, leaf prints, and sliced fruit. Trying a variety of objects will give you practice and allow you to see how different objects work. It is also easy to make your own custom stamps. An easy to make stamp is to use an art eraser (gum). Draw the design on the eraser. Then use a small sharp knife to carve out the areas around your design. The key is to carefully carve out the design. Craft foam and sponges can also be carved to make stamps.
My personal favorite is sun printing. Sun printing is easy and very kid friendly. Basically, you mix Setacolor with water. Spray the fabric with water and then paint the fabric. Lay the fabric in full sun. Place desired objects on the fabric. The areas covered by the objects will have less color than the rest of the fabric. This needs to be heat set. You can then sun print again in a different color or use as desired. One important thing to remember is the stronger the sun the better the print. This is a technique that should be done in the summer.
Resist is a technique where the fabric has areas protected from the paint or dye. In the finished product those areas will be paint free. Batiks are made from a wax resist. Other forms of resist use a paste. Two easy forms of resist involve thread and glue.
Shibori is a Japanese form of dying fabric using folding, sewing, and twisting to stop the dye from flowing into certain areas of the fabric. This is similar to tie dying. Paint can be used instead of dye. Tightly fold, crimp, or twist the fabric and submerge in dye or pour the paint over the fabric. Let sit for awhile and then unfold and dry.
The second form of easy resist uses Elmer’s Blue Gel Glue. Other glue may work, but the blue gel makes it easy to see. Squeeze the glue onto the fabric in the desired design. Allow the glue to dry overnight and then paint or dye the fabric. After you heat set the paint through it into the wash. This is the easiest way I have found to get the glue out of the fabric. When it’s finished you can do more resist or use in a project. It is very easy.
Using these three techniques can create beautiful original fabrics. Try each one and find the one that works best for you. They are accessible even for the novice art quilter. Remember, art quilting gives you the opportunity to step out of the box. Become more creative. Try something new today.